Lectionary Commentaries for July 7, 2019
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Amy G. Oden

This is the third passage in the last four weeks that invites us to step out of the reactivity that the world around us reinforces.

Jesus offers instead the consistent promise of peace and the nearness of God’s kin-dom. This commentary will focus on verses 5-11, a section bookended by clear commands from Jesus to his followers about how to respond, not react, as they engage the world they live in. Jesus offers two clear proclamations.

Two proclamations

The story of Jesus’ sending of the 70 gives a rare window into what it looked like to follow Jesus in the first generation. In verses 5-6 Jesus sends out disciples with the first proclamation that sounds deceptively simple: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (verse 5). This word of peace is the first word, the opening word, the announcing word. Notice that Jesus does not tell them to do any sort of assessment before making this proclamation. He doesn’t ask them to determine whether this house follows the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or whether this house has kept the law or whether this house is likely to receive the good news Jesus brings. Jesus doesn’t ask them to do a risk assessment or pre-judge whether this house will be worth their time.

Jesus goes on to instruct them in the dynamic of sharing peace: “if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you” (verse 6). This verse is packed with instruction for reactive lives today and is worth taking time to unpack. First, Jesus assumes that these apostles he sends, do in fact have peace. Jesus says that “Your peace” specifically, not just random, generic peace, will rest on others or return to you.

As we engage others, we must first be well-grounded in God’s peace, the peace that passes understanding. God’s shalom is more than being calm. It is confidence in God’s abiding presence so that we also share that presence with others. Engaging others means not treating them as objects upon which we act, but as sacred others with whom we are called to be fully and peacefully present. If they do not share this peace, Jesus does not advise reactivity, scorn or polemics. Instead, he reassures his followers that their peace is not diminished and cannot be taken away from them: “it will return to you” (verse 6).

At the end of this section, Jesus instructs them in a second proclamation: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (verse 9). Remarkably, this proclamation applies whether one is welcomed (verse 8) or one is not welcomed (verse 10). The kin-dom of God is promised to all, to those who receive as well as to those who reject. The new kinship, a new way of understanding all human relationships, indeed, God’s ordering of all things, is a life-changing proclamation. And it is for everyone!

Here again, Jesus does not instruct them to argue, convince, or threaten if they are not welcomed. He does advise them to signal their moving on by shaking dust off their shoes (verse 11). In this way, they are not weighed down by rejection, or paralyzed with trying to figure out what they did wrong or could have done differently to produce a different outcome. Instead, Jesus invites them to move forward in the confidence of these two proclamations, “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.”

As Christians, we can reliably root our lives in these two proclamations — “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is the good news that we have to share! These keep our gaze on God’s activity right in front of us, rather than turning it to blaming, accusing or judgmental analyzing, symptoms that reactivity holds our lives in bondage.


Invite your congregation to experiment with these two proclamations by offering them daily for a week. First, ask them to think about how they would re-state each proclamation in one simple sentence using their everyday speech. How might they put into their own words Jesus’ proclamation “The kingdom of God has come near?” The restatement doesn’t have to capture all the theological heft of the biblical proclamation. The goal here is to indigenize, even in partial form, each of these powerful proclamations. Offer some examples from your own natural way of talking. For example, “I can see God’s love in your life right now” or “God is at work in all of this.” Do the same with “Peace to this house!”

Second, invite them to make one proclamation in their own words once a day for a week. They can experiment with offering it to a family member, co-worker, anonymous driver or even to themselves, whether out loud or silently in their heart. If possible, allow time the following week to share experiences from this experiment.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 66:10-14

Kristin J. Wendland

Isaiah 65-66, the final chapters in the book of Isaiah, pick up a number of themes and images prominent in Isaiah 40-66.

It is like the end of a several season television show that flashes back to the best parts of the series in the final episode. In Isaiah 66:10-14 three of these themes are present: a call to joy, Jerusalem personified as a mother, and God comforting the children of Jerusalem.

A call to joy

Rejoice with Jerusalem! Be glad! Rejoice! Such calls are common in the section of the book of Isaiah following chapter 40, where hearers are called to rejoice, take joy, exult, sing and shout out (see also Isaiah 44:23; 49:13-14; 52:8-9; 61:10). Following the devastation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BCE and the subsequent exile of many of the city’s citizens, the news that the people may return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city is joyous. Even in this verse that calls for joy three times, there is a mention of past mourning, however. The joy and gladness called for here is a joy and gladness birthed out of deep suffering and pain, one that feels the joy that much more keenly for having also experienced its opposite. God is doing a new thing, but it does not erase the past.

A nursing mother

In Isaiah 66:10-14 Jerusalem is personified as a nursing mother. In the verses leading up to the beginning of this week’s reading, we read of a miraculous birth for Mother Zion, one free of labor and pain (Isaiah 66:7-8). It is a gift from God who has power to bring life from life. In verses 11-12 Jerusalem nurtures the children born, nursing them at her breast and dandling them on her knee.

The personification of Jerusalem as a woman appears elsewhere in prophetic literature (see Jeremiah 2:2; 4:31; 13:21-27; Ezekiel 23:1-49) and is a primary image in Lamentations 1-2. In much of the prophetic literature personified Jerusalem is described as an unfaithful woman whose actions will reap serious and sometimes violent circumstances. In the book of Lamentations, Jerusalem weeps over the loss of her children to an enemy — a vivid way of describing the Babylonian attack on the city of Jerusalem (Lamentations 1:2, 5, 7, 16, 18). All this is to say that when we encounter this joyful Jerusalem in Isaiah 66, she is a woman who has experienced much life — she has loved, and she has lost; she has sought, and she has returned home.

Even in the more expectant passages of Isaiah 40-55 — passages filled with the hope of a new mother — this past grief is not forgotten. In Isaiah 49:20-21, Jerusalem recounts her time of bereavement and exile as she notes with surprise that she has borne more children. In Isaiah 54:1-2, as Jerusalem is exhorted to sing out in joy and to enlarge the size of her tent in order to accommodate her future children, she is addressed as desolate and as a “barren one who did not bear.” As the reference to mourning in verse 10 signifies, Jerusalem’s whole past is present in these verses as well. This new thing that God is doing is not — as if it ever could be — cut off from past experiences.

Isaiah 66:10-14 is addressed to the people of Jerusalem — the young beloveds suckling at the breast and sitting at the hip of this city who now sustains their every need. Jerusalem had long been known as the place that God had chosen as an earthly dwelling, and the Temple atop Mount Zion represented this. Jerusalem, then, became a sign of God’s presence and blessing. Its destruction called this into question. The image of Isaiah 66 of the city of Jerusalem as one who nourishes her child is a vivid reclamation of this old theme, affirming once more that the city is a symbol of God’s presence and care.

I will comfort you

In verse 13 the mother image moves from Jerusalem to God. It is not, finally, the city — personified or otherwise — who offers mothering comfort but God. Like the images studied above, God as mother and the theme of comfort arise in other sections of Isaiah as well. In Isaiah 42:14, God cries out like a woman in labor, though the image there is not one of hope or new beginnings but an analogy between the gasping of labor pains and the panting of a warrior going into battle. In Isaiah 49:15 the metaphor is more hopeful, as God is depicted as more attentive and compassionate than a nursing mother. Never shall God’s children be left behind.

This theme of comfort recalls times when Jerusalem and her children were without comfort (Lamentations 1:2, 9, 16, 17, 21). Isaiah 66:13 forms a bookend with Isaiah 40:1. “Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God.” In a sense this whole part of the book of Isaiah is enveloped in divine comfort. Between Isaiah 40 and Isaiah 66, other periodic exclamations of God’s comfort for God’s people emphasize this (see Isaiah 49:13; 51:3; 51:12; 52:9; 54:11).

All these recurrent themes point forward to a new, God-given future. There are two caveats. First, these chapters neither forget nor discount parts of the past that were less hopeful or joyous. Rather both the past and the present are integrated in this new, promised future. This has been stated above, but it bears repeating. Secondly, while this passage is one of joy and salvation, passages both before and after it hold words of judgment. In Protestant parlance, there is both law and gospel, each complementing the other. Rather than salvation and hope following judgment and law, the two continue to be paradoxically present at the same time, much as in our own lives.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 5:1-14

Brian C. Jones

The story of the healing of Naaman is about entitlement, power, and pride.

It is about the shame attached to a chronic and visible bodily abnormality. And it is about divine power that flows through humble channels rather than through the pomp and power that humans esteem.

A key detail of the story is that Naaman was a leper. But leprosy then and now are different conditions. The Hebrew term translated ‘leprosy’ is tzara‘ath. It refers to skin blemishes and eruptions that rendered one ritually unclean and, consequently, resulted in social stigma and exclusion. The term does not refer to Hansen’s disease, commonly referred to today as leprosy, a disfiguring and disabling bacterial disease. Although the Bible gives remarkably precise descriptions of tzara‘ath, we are not certain of the nature of the skin conditions to which the term referred. It probably referred to more than one: fungal infections, leukoderma (see verse 27), impetigo, psoriasis, and eczema are all possibilities. Leviticus 13–14 provides instructions for determining a leprous condition and segregating those so afflicted. It also specifies the rituals of cleansing and reintegration, should the condition resolve.

Surprisingly, even walls and clothing could have tzara‘ath, in which cases the term probably referred to fungus or mold. The important point is that it was an obvious skin condition and indicated ritual uncleanness and possible divine judgement, as the sacrifices specified for cleansing indicate (Leviticus 14:10–32; see 2 Samuel 3:29). Touching a leper made one unclean, just as touching a human corpse or carrion did. Lepers were marked and excluded so that they would not transmit ritual impurity. Avoiding the spread of disease contagion is a modern concept, and most of the skin conditions categorized as “tzara‘ath” would not have been communicable.

Naaman commanded the army of Aram (Syria) and was himself a “mighty warrior,” a man of both physical strength and personal charisma. But he was a leper, a condition that made him ceremonially unclean and socially isolated, though it is possible that his high social status blunted the social ostracism that accompanied the disease. The story underlines Naaman’s exalted status in several ways. The king of Aram so esteems him that he endangers a fragile truce with Israel so that Naaman might seek healing. Naaman controls great wealth. He brings with him about 1,000 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten suits of clothing — huge treasure! And he comes with an entourage consisting of “horses and chariots,” a procession of power. The man who rolls up in front of Elisha’s house that afternoon, horses tossing their heads, chariots gleaming, boxes of silver and gold ready to buy a cure, is accustomed to bows of honor and unquestioning obedience. If there is a prophet in Israel powerful enough to heal him, Naaman definitely has the means to persuade that prophet. He assumes that what he needs he will get.

Such is the way of the world, but the ways of the God of Israel run counter to this. The humble and unlikely channels of God’s power are hinted at from the beginning of the story. Naaman learns how he might be healed from a humble source, a young Israelite girl, a powerless slave. To his credit, he values the word of the servant girl passed on through his wife. This is a hopeful sign. The true test of Naaman’s openness to the humble and humbling ways of the LORD is the scene in front of Elisha’s house. The prophet dishonors the great man at his door. He does not show himself; instead he sends a messenger. And the message offers further humiliation for Naaman. No special rite of healing will be performed. The prophet will not meet with him at all. “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times.” Elisha sends Naaman off to take a self-serve, third-rate-river cure. Outrageous! Furious, he slams the chariot door and drives off. Perhaps it is only Naaman’s desperation for a cure that keeps him from burning down the prophet’s house.

Again, it is the courage of servants that saves Naaman. What temerity they have to confront their master and reason with him! And we see a second time that Naaman has the grace of being able to hear advice from outside the bubble of his privilege. He swallows his pride and treks down the long, steep road to the Jordan valley. He “went down.” The Hebrew verb is from the same stem as the name Jordan, a name meaning simply “descender.” The narrator compresses the healing process into the space of a single verse. The scene at the lowly Jordan, more of a stream than a river, less glorious by human standards than the rivers of Damascus, is the nadir of Naaman’s humiliation. While his entourage watches, he dips himself seven times in the humble Jordan. The specified number of immersions recalls the priestly rituals of cleansing specified in Leviticus 14. And then he is clean (tehar, which denotes ritual purity). His skin is like that of a young boy (na‘ar, which can, significantly, also mean ‘servant’).

Not only Naaman’s skin but his very self is remade. Like the tenth leper healed by Jesus, Naaman returns (shuv, which can also mean ‘repent’) to give thanks. He comes and stands before the prophet, a phrase that denotes the posture of a supplicant. He confesses his new-found faith in the God of Israel, the only true God, and offers Elisha the presents he has brought. Now the wealth he has brought is not an incentive, but truly an offering. Elisha makes it clear that the power of God is not for sale. It is a gift, a grace. The genuine transformation of Naaman’s religious world is made clear in his request for sacred soil on which to worship the LORD back home, and this is further underlined by his plea for leniency when he is required to attend his king in the temple of Rimmon. “Go in peace,” says Elisha, which must mean leniency is granted. He returns home a different man, a clean man with loads of foreign dirt on which to worship the true God.

The story contains a danger which the preacher must recognize and possibly address head on. The idea that pride stands in the way of physical healing has obvious potential for harm. It might lead to guilt and self-blame in someone suffering a chronic illness. The story must be handled with care in this regard.


Commentary on Psalm 66:1-9

Casey Thornburgh Sigmon

This is a psalm about God’s awesome deeds for the people of God.

Overhearing the psalm is the universe, which the congregation assumes will join the chorus of God’s awesomeness once they recognize the actions of the Lord for Israel and for all creation.

Israel’s chosen-ness

Specifically, this psalm sings of how God kept Israel secure and gave Israel a new land. For this reason, it is right to give Yahweh thanks and praise. Exodus is recalled: “God turned sea (yam) into dry land; the river (nahar) they crossed on foot” (verse 6).

Yam and Nahar are the names of the personalized cosmic powers whom the Canaanite god Baal overthrows in the ancient myth of Baal’s ascent to kingship over nature.1 According to the psalmist, these events are revelation of Yahweh’s rule over all nations, not just Israel. Wouldn’t you want to be in cahoots with this God?

American chosen-ness? A word of caution

Locating this text in the United States civic calendar on the Sunday closest to Independence Day creates a tricky situation for the preacher. Substituting Israel’s story for the story of European Protestant exodus from persecution to freedom is a pretty easy move. “Just as God parted the Red Sea to free Israel, so too did God offer safe passage across the Atlantic for the founding fathers. Just as Israel was destined to take over Canaan, so too the pilgrims were destined to take the New World from its indigenous peoples.” Yikes. Can of worms opened.

Should you choose to preach from this psalm today, here is my suggestion: In order to avoid preaching a white supremacy sermon dressed up as a manifest destiny sermon, you may want to ignore the suggested pericope from the RCL, which ends your reading at verse 9. Instead, muddy the waters a bit by moving the reading through verse 12.

Praise for deliverance and discipline

For one, the general hymn of praise embedded in this psalm runs through verse 12.2 While the selection of verses 1-9 is pure, uncomplicated praise, the three omitted verses that go along with the general hymn are complicated. The tone shifts from “thunderous unanimous praise” to “sober reflection on the fact that the touch of the hand of God … is not discovered merely in portent and protection.”3 Discipline can also teach us (as a congregation, as a nation, as humanity) about God.

Why are verses 10-12 left out of the pericope? Perhaps the difficult implicit theology of the text as it claims that the trials of a wayward people — as loins caught in a net or trammel (not easy preaching material); or as people riding over God’s people (slightly easier to preach) — were set up by God in judgment and for the refinement of God’s people. What happens if your congregant reads past verse 9 and dives into this section on her own? What happens when we don’t discuss the need for discipline in our growth as Christians?

The point of these verses may also be to say to nations looking over their shoulders at Israel’s hard times: this does not contradict God’s power over all nations and creation. We were refined by these afflictions, and God brought us through to a spacious place and so into new life.

Remembering to renew

Any nation that hopes to stand in the congregation of the world and embody the awesomeness of God in any sort of evangelical or city on a hill kind of way must get back to the roots of God’s will for humanity (and the preacher must be clear about the gospel):

  • to be a nation that loves justice, mercy, and walks humbly with God;
  • to be a nation that cares for immigrants, widows, and orphans;
  • to be a nation that practices Sabbath and jubilee, so that people and land may be restored into producing more good fruit.

As a citizen of the United States of America, I lament that we have not yet arrived to that good and spacious land where all can breathe and glorify their Creator. I lament too the tragic origin story of this nation and the ways Christ was weaponized to enforce a New World. So as a preacher, I suggest you exhort the congregation to live into God’s awesomeness, proclaiming the redemption story of this nation and world as far from complete. But offer steps seriously imaginable enough to keep the congregation from remaining in a comfortable paralysis.


  1. James L. Mays, “Psalms” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 222.
  2. At verse 13 the psalm shifts to an individual’s personal testimony of thanksgiving to God.
  3. Edwin McNeill Poteat, “Exposition Psalms 42-89” in The Interpreter’s Bible in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon, 1955), 346.

Second Reading

Commentary on Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

Amy L.B. Peeler

The final chapter of Galatians ties closely to what has come before.

In the first half of the chapter Paul continues the theme of healthy living in community, and in the second he addresses, for the final time, the particular pressing issue in Galatia. The general principles and the historical particularity both aid contemporary readers in their own practices of life together.

The communal fruit of the spirit continued

Galatians 5 is much better known since it is the repository of the contrasting lists of the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” As those who have been crucified with Christ Paul believes the Galatians can walk in the free life they currently possess. This is not just an individual piety, but becomes apparent through interactions with others. Pride, provoking, or envying others would not be commensurate with life in the Spirit.

Instead of being antagonistic to others, Paul urges the exact opposite — namely, care for others. Spiritual ones should gently restore anyone who is caught in sin. Since he has affirmed that they are all in the Spirit, one might think that no one in this community could fall into sin. Paul recognizes — and reminds them of —  the potential for human failure. Even the spiritual who are helping an entangled sibling should be on the lookout lest they succumb to temptation. But this kind of care is worth the risk. To help shoulder the burdens of others is the way the law of Christ is fulfilled. This is precisely the way Paul appealed to the law in 5:14; loving others is the way to fulfill the law.

Verses 3 through 5 are very difficult to understand. I suggest they include a counter example. If Paul’s desire is that they support one another, these verses describe someone who tries to go “on his own.” My argument arises from the dissonance of verse 2 and 5. Bearing one another’s burdens is the fulfillment of the law (verse 2), but verse 5 suggests that each person will bear her own burden. Several commentators suggest that verse 5 speaks of one’s accountability in the final judgment, and this is certainly possible. I wonder, instead, if verse 5 is the result when one tries to do the Christian faith without the support of others. They will have to bear their own burden.

If that is correct, then the person is verse 3 is someone who thinks he is something when he is nothing. In light of the context this is either the person who has fallen into sin and imagines she does not need the help of others or the person trying to mend another and imagines that she is not prone to temptation. If anyone thinks they can “do it on their own” they are self-deceived. Verse 4 then is a hypothetical situation that continues this mentality. If that person tests his own work, he might imagine that he has a boast in himself and not in any others. It is that kind of person then who would have to bear his own burden.

In contrast to this self-reliance, Paul wants those who are taught the word to share with those who teach them. So again, those who are helped and those who are helping each other should practice a mutuality of “all good things.”

In verse 8, Paul again returns to a theme from the previous chapter. Flesh results in destruction and Spirit results in eternal life. Since the flesh motif has been used in situations of divisiveness (5:15 and 20), it seems probable that that emphasis on mutuality continues. Fleshliness is to hurt others, Spirit-living is to support them. He wants the Galatians to keep doing this kind of good — specified in verse 10 as others-directed good — until the harvest time arrives.

The specifics

Most commentators believe that Paul takes the stylus at this point to write the closing section. When he writes, he returns to the pressing issue in the community, circumcision. Those who desire this for the Galatians fail in several ways, according to Paul. They care about reputation. They do not embrace the shame of the cross. They do not even keep the law. Paul could mean that they who urge circumcision fail to keep the whole law or that they fail to keep the heart of the law, namely truly loving the other by keeping their focus on faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ alone.

Paul contrasts himself with them. His only boast is in the cross. Through it he has died to the world, where boasting in one’s self or one’s followers is the norm. As he said earlier in Galatians 5 (verse 6), circumcision is not the base of the problem. What really matters is the new creation, a different way of saying the new life found in the Spirit. For those who keep their focus on that new creation, he can wish them peace and mercy. This would include the Galatian Gentiles, and it also includes the Jewish people, the Israel of God. This is a phrase he often uses to designate the people of ethnic Israel (Romans 9–11; 2 Corinthians 3). So, his terms here are inclusive. He wishes peace and mercy upon them who do not enforce the law upon others or do not take it upon themselves as a means of righteousness.

Self-awareness in the cross

In both sections, Paul is urging healthy self-awareness. He wants the Galatians to know their need for others, and ultimately their need for the cruciform Spirit of Christ. Only in him do they find the peace free of self-aggrandizement and self-reliance. Only in him do they find the genuine mercy for fellow strugglers. The new creation can start among them in the present as they realize, like he has, their death to these systems of the world. It is striking how much that we, just as first-century Galatians, need a word exhorting us to mutual mercy and dependence.